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ITC chief looks for new stars

    While the country's top players experienced mixed fortunes at Wimbledon, Danny Gelley, head of the Israel Tennis Centre (ITC), was casting his eye over the next generation.

    The CEO of the award-winning, non-profit tennis programme, Gelley believes that creating "good citizens" is the project's underlying goal and that producing world-class players is only "a positive spin-off".

    The ITC, which has running costs of $10m per year, has been in existence for more than 30 years. Gelley said: "Across our 14 centres, we are proud to be able to help kids to play together from a variety of backgrounds. Above all, though, we give them the opportunity to learn about each other, life and the country through our different programmes."

    Gelley was leading an ITC exhibition at Totteridge Lawn Tennis Club. "The ITC has won the Israeli prize for social change in Israel, not for creating players for Wimbledon," he added although he acknowledged that the two were not mutually exclusive, looking in the direction of Andy Ram, who has won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title.

    Ram was alongside fellow ITC graduate Yoni Erlich, the pair having taken time out from preparing for last Sunday's Eastbourne final.

    Ram recalled being taken to London for a similar exhibition in 1992 when he was 12, which included a trip to Wimbledon. "I remember thinking, 'wow. I want to play here just once'. I never imagined I would be a champion."

    Ram and Erlich both came through the Ramat Hasharon training centre which is the only residential elite sports campus in Israel. It gives players aged 14 to 18 round-the-clock training and schooling.

    Among the four teens who showcased their skills was 15-year-old, Yossi, who thanked his coaches at Ramat Hasharon for "taking care of me" after he lost his father in 2009. He hopes to develop into an ATP player like his hero Dudi Sela, another Ramat Hasharon graduate.

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